SEA OATS BEACH - WHAT'S IN A NAME
Some of the local old timers know this thin sliver of land at about MM75, along U.S. One on Lower Matecumbe, as Bale Beach. Bale Beach is derived from the fact that a couple decades ago the U.S. Coast Guard in Islamorada often intervened when bales of illegal marijuana floated ashore here, hoping to arrest smugglers waiting to pick it up.
Stop in at Florida Keys Brewing Co. to taste “Bale Beach Pale Ale,” surely named after this famous beach.
Some folks travel from all over the country to the Florida Keys in search of treasures from the old Spanish Treasure Galleon fleet, victims of the 1733 hurricane. They call our beach Treasure Beach.
On July 15, 1733 the Nueva Espana Flota, with 20 ships that sailed from Havana, were caught in a severe hurricane while on their way to Spain. Most were grounded on the reefs of the Florida Keys. The names of the ships are very confusing, sometimes with a religious name, sometimes named after the captain or owner. The shipwreck often referred to as Herri, Terri, or El Lerri is in about 14’ of water not far off the beach at MM75. All that is visibly left of this shipwreck is ballast stone, easily distinguished from our coral rock and sandy ocean bottom.
Centuries ago, builders placed round stones from rivers near ports where ships left for the New World. The stones were placed against the keel of ships. This kept the galleons steady under sail. The round river stones could be replaced with ore deposits or stones containing emeralds from the New World for the trip back to Spain. Or they could remain if there was room enough, to steady the ships in wind.
When the treasure galleons wrecked back in 1733, the remains were scattered over miles of ocean.
Hurricane Irma brought good fortune to some treasure hunters on Treasure Beach on Lower Matecumbe, according to Dr. John Christopher Fine. Fine is an expert in maritime affairs and beach detecting and diving on shipwreck sites. Fine has authored 26 published books including TREASURES OF THE SPANISH MAIN.
Florida has designated the shipwreck site of the San Pedro further north, near Indian Key, as a historic underwater preserve. While the original cannons have been removed, the state has placed cement cannons around a ballast pile for divers to enjoy. The San Pedro is a shallow dive accessible to snorkelers. The cement cannons simulate an original 1733 fleet wreck site.
Sea Oats Beach
Why do we call the area "Sea Oats Beach?" The beach was once lined with sea oats plants, not that long ago.
Sea Oats are a vital part of the ecosystem in so many coastal areas, playing an important role in coastal conservation. Because of this, it is illegal to pick sea oats in Florida. They have a massive root system capable of holding soil and sand in place during extreme weather like hurricanes and tropical storms.
The sand that collects around the plant actually stimulates its growth. The cycle of sand collection and plant growth facilitates expansion of the sea oats and the sand dunes. If sea oats are buried by the sand, it develops an underground stem system that grows to the surface and produces another plant.
Sea oat leaves and stems also trap wind-blown sand. That increases the size of the dunes, too. Of course, sand dunes also help protect the coast from erosion during high winds and storm surges.
"Sea Oats Beach" has virtually no beach left and no sea oats.
With every storm, large or small, the surf pushes sand from Sea Oats Beach onto U.S. One. Hurricane Irma came and went on Sept. 10, 2017, and with it. the sand washed up and over U.S. One. With the surge, big chunks of highway washed away, too.
Time to rename the Beach once more? Any thoughts?
Look what happened when Hurricane Irma came to call in September 2017
While the damage to U. S. One at MM 74.5 was primarily limited to one lane, repairs created huge congestion for vehicles traveling south of this location.
The highway at Sea Oats Beach has been an area of huge concern for decades as the beach has eroded and the ocean in high tide is just feet from the highway. Yes, this would probable be best referred to as
Jeopardy Beach… enjoy at your own risk.